Direct and indirect effects of climate and fishing on changes in coastal ecosystem services: a historical perspective from the North Sea


Humanity depends on the marine environment for a range of vital ecosystem services, at global (e.g. climate regulation), regional (e.g. commercial fisheries) and local scales (e.g. coastal defence and recreation). At the same time, marine ecosystems have been exploited for centuries, and many systems today are under stress from multiple sources. Recent studies have shown how both climate change and fishing have caused long-term changes in the marine environment. However, there is still poor understanding of how these changes influence change in coastal ecosystem services. In this paper, an integrated modelling approach is used to assess how the final delivery of marine ecosystem services to coastal communities is influenced by the direct and indirect effects of changes in ecosystem processes brought about by climate and human impacts, using fisheries of the North Sea region as a case study. Partial least squares path analysis is used to explore the relationships between drivers of change, marine ecosystem processes and services (landings). A simple conceptual model with four variables—climate, fishing effort, ecosystem process and ecosystem services—is applied to the English North Sea using historic ecological, climatic and fisheries time series spanning 1924–2010 to identify the multiple pathways that might exist. As expected, direct and indirect links between fishing effort, ecosystem processes and service provision were significant. However, links between climate and ecosystem processes were weak. This paper highlights how path analysis can be used for analysing long-term temporal links between ecosystem processes and services following a simplified pathway.

Regional Environmental Change